The coast of the Algarve, located in the south of Portugal, is undoubtedly one of the most spectacular stretches of coastline in the world. While it’s famed for its raw and rugged beauty, and it’s true that many of the beaches have incredibly dramatic backdrops of crumbling cliffs, no two beaches in the Algarve are quite alike.
This variety is what makes a trip along this coastline so wondrous – you’ll encounter tiny beaches that are barely more than patches of sand hidden among rocky outcrops, but you’ll also find long flat white-sand beaches that stretch almost as far as the eye can see.
Some of the beaches are tourist hotspots, and are rife with fiestas in the summertime, whereas others are secluded and you’ll rarely see another soul there. The turquoise waters can be calm enough to snorkel in blissful tranquility, or the wind can pick up and produce some of the largest waves you’ll find in Europe (which have long attracted surfers from around the globe).
So, what we’re getting at is that whatever kind of beach you’re after, you can be sure that the Algarve has you covered. A popular way to explore the beaches of the Algarve is by motorhome, as you can drive from beach to beach and get a real sense of how to landscape evolves and witness what each section of the Algarve has to offer. This can be a slow-time consuming experience, however, and not all of us are fortunate enough to have so many holiday days to play with.
Plus, motorhomes just aren’t everyone’s cup of tea. So, if you don’t have the luxury of spending weeks and weeks exploring the Algarve, you’ll need to speed things up a bit. Here, we’ve brought you a selection of the best beach the Algarve has to offer, and we’ve made sure to include beaches located across a wide geographical range so that no matter where you chose to spend your vacation, you’ll not be far from one of this spectacular beaches – enjoy!
Praia da Falésia is located pretty much slap bang in the middle of the south coast of Portugal, roughly 10 km to the east of Albufeira. Albufeira is a bit of a party town, and it attracts thousands of tourists a year, so it’s not surprising that this beach gets a lot of visitors too.
You’ll still be able to find yourself a good spot though, even in the height of summer, as the beach itself is an impressive 6 km long. More impressive, however, is the orange clifftop that lines the sand. It’s dotted with shrubs that have somehow managed to take root on the crumbly cliffs and, on the Western end of the beach in particular, the cliffs are particularly high and humbling.
In the quieter winter months, this beach makes an excellent place for a peaceful beach hike, and you can walk along the top of the cliffs for fantastic ocean views and then loop back on yourself by walking on the beach itself.
Best for: Long walks, plant lovers
Praia da Marinha is consistently rated as one of the most beautiful in the entire world, let alone in the Algarve. It has become somewhat of a ‘poster girl’ for the region, and it’s often pictures of this beach that you’ll find in travel brochures and advertisements for the Algarve. The beach itself is on the South coast of Portugal, further West than Praia da Falésia and between the towns of Carvoeiro and Armação de Pêra.
The cliff is lined with golden cliffs and, in the shallows, the turquoise waters are dotted with captivating boulders of the same rock that have long since tumbled from the clifftop. In fact, with cliffs, boulders, and rocky outcrops all the same color, it can be hard to know where the land end and the ocean begins.
Once such protrusion that’s particularly spectacular to behold forms a double archway, known as the M of Marinha – if you’re into photography, make sure you take your camera with you because you’ll be spoilt for choice of beautiful scenic shots. Plus the rocky outcrops make great shelters for passing fish, and the crystal clear waters have made this beach a popular snorkeling spot.
If you park at the car park at the top of the cliff, make sure you pause to take in the scenery before making your way down to the beach itself (and be warned, the steps are not for the fainthearted). From one clifftop angle, the ‘m’ appears to join another section of rock, forming a heart shape that you may well have seen on your local travel agents.
Unfortunately, because of its spectacular beauty, this beach does get pretty crowded during peak season (although not as bad as you might expect). If you want to get some snaps without tonnes of people in them, or make sure that you get a decent spot, we definitely recommend getting there early.
Best for: Photography, snorkeling
Meia Praia is located in the laid-back town of Lagos and, at 5 km, it’s one of the Algarve’s longest beaches. While it lacks the dramatic clifftop backgrounds of many of the beaches discussed here, the lack of rocks definitely has some perks. Firstly, its smooth, flat nature makes it a popular choice for runners and dog walkers, who don’t have to worry about any stubbed toes (or paws).
It’s also the only beach in Lagos itself that has surfable waves, so when the swell picks up you’ll find eager surfers racing down to the beach, boards in hand.
While it may not be as picturesque as some of the other beaches listed here, it has lots of amenities very close to hand – there are loads of beachfront restaurants, hotels, and parking spots – which makes it a popular choice for families (plus you can keep an eye on your little ones as they can’t hide behind any pesky boulders).
Best for: Runners, dog walkers, families
Praia Dona Ana isn’t dissimilar to Praia da Marinha in terms of its beautiful rocky outcrops and emerald waters, but it’s far more convenient if you’re staying in Lagos as you can simply walk there (which is great if you don’t have a hire car). To reach the beach, you’ll have to work your way down (and then up) a 93-step wooden staircase – so be warned – but it’s totally worth it. The beach is slightly protected from the wind, so it’s another hotspot for snorkeling, and the Marisol restaurant means you can enjoy an ice-cold beer or a GnT after a quick dip. It does fill up in peak tourist time but, if you’re around in the winter months, you’ll likely have the entire place to yourself – the contrast really is astounding.
Best for: Photography and snorkeling
If you love the scenery that this beach has to offer, but hate battling your way through the crowds, then we suggest heading over to Praia do Pinhao instead. Located just 300m away, this tiny beach is far less visited, yet has the same dramatic rocks and enchanting waterfront. In fact, it’s actually two even smaller beaches separated by a pile of rocks yet joined via a hidden walkway.
There are no amenities here though, so you’ll have to pack wisely, but if you want a more peaceful experience during the summer months, then it’s worth the trade-off.
Best for: Beating the crowds
If you head further west along the south coast, you’ll eventually reach Vila do Bispo, very close to the south-west tip of Portugal. Although there are lots of beaches around this area, Praia do Zavial has its own special charm. It’s a great one for beginner to advanced surfers living around the tip, as when the swell gets too much on the west coast, this beach often has smaller waves thanks to its wind protection.
If you aren’t into surfing, it’s still a great beach to hang out on. If the waves are good, you can climb up the cliffs on the western side and watch the surfers do their thing (be very careful as you climb though). When the waves are bad, you might yourself the only one on this beach, and there are some nice clifftop walks originating from the eastern side of the beach.
You can park right by the beach, and at the end of the walkway, there’s a little restaurant serving up perfect post-surf snacks and drinks. This beach is also popular among families, as you can drive right to it, there’s a restaurant (and toilets), and it’s not very big so your kids are always within sight.
Best for: surfing, families
If you stick to the coast and skirt around the tip, you’ll find yourself on Portugal’s western coast, known for its huge Atlantic swells that attract fearless surfers from around the world. Although there are tonnes of surf spots, one beach that really stands out for both surfers and non-surfers alike is Praia da Arrifana. The waves aren’t always huge though, so don’t be put off if you’re only just learning.
In fact, there couldn’t be a cooler spot to learn – you’ll be surrounded by some of the most stunning scenery the Algarve has to offer. Unlike the golden cliffs of the southern beaches that we’ve mentioned, the rocks here are dark with a slate-like appearance. They’re super steep and the clearly visible lines give the impression that layers of them may tumble into the sea at any moment.
The town of Arrifana itself has plenty of cafes, bars, and restaurants, and this beach makes part of a great day trip. On the cliffs just to the north of the beach there’s a small fort you can explore and, as you look back over to the beach, don’t forget to look out for the Pedra da Agulha (Needle Rock) – a large, tall rock standing upright in the ocean at the southern end of the beach.
Best for: surfing, day trips
If you head further north again, you’ll reach Praia da Amoreira. Situated at the mouth of the Aljezur River, and backed by dunes and green hilltops, this beach really does have a unique feel bout it. Although this is another popular surfing beach, it never gets very busy here, so don’t let that put you off if you aren’t into surfing.
In fact, you’re more likely to come across hikers in this area, who may even be partaking in the mighty Fishermen’s Trail – a multi-day hike that explores miles and miles of the Algarve coastline, passing many of its top beaches en route.
Best for: hikes, surfing, avoiding the crowds
And finally, for our last entry, we’re whizzing over to the eastern coast of the Algarve to introduce you to Ilha de Tavira, essentially a sandbank with some lovely stretches of sand. Our favorite stretch, however, is the main beach, thanks to its pristine white sand – it’s probably the closest you’ll get to feeling like you’re in the tropics while you’re in Europe.
The island is actually part of the natural park of Ria Formosa, which means you’ll get the added bonus of checking out some cool wildlife while you’re there – the birdlife is especially good, and flamingoes are a common sighting.
Best for: nature
So, there you have it, our list of the best beaches in the Algarve. Believe us when we say it was hard to whittle it down to such a small number – there are just so many strong contenders out there. Ultimately, no matter where in the Algarve you end up, you’re going to be close to some spectacular beaches.
Although it’s tempting to find a nice local beach and stay put, we definitely recommend getting out there and exploring as many of these magical spots as you can. If you have a car then it’s simple, but if not, you often end up finding some of the smallest and most special beaches on foot, so no excuses, please!
Roger is a little obsessed with travel. He has been to over 40 countries, broken 3 suitcases and owned over 10 backpacks in 12 months. What he doesn't know about travel, ain't worth knowing!